You’ll recognise the star of Karen Maine’s masturbation comedy Yes, God, Yes Natalia Dyer from Netflix’s hyper-popular Stranger Things. Whereas Nancy Wheeler was sassy and confident, Dyer turns in here a much more nuanced and timid performance as Alice, a devout Catholic student whose life is complicated when her religion and her budding sexuality meet.
Alice loves to surf the internet and take part in innocent quizzes online, but on one occasion, another user engages in a saucy chat with the inexperienced Alice. This sends Alice down a path of guilt, but also increasing curiosity as she explores her own body and the pleasure its capable of giving her. Her strict catholic upbringing and school insist anything remotely sexual is a sin, something to fear and be disgusted by, but Alice soon discovers that it’s not quite as black and white as she was raised to believe.
What Maine’s subtle but powerful script does so well is showcase just how much religion can affect us in negative ways, but it never judges any of its characters for their faith. This feels very much a film aimed at women and young girls; Alice’s struggles and growing desire feels familiar, but is something that has never portrayed on screen, at least not like this. Yes, God, Yes is an honest film and nothing here is sugar-coated or dramatized for entertainment value. In fact, you might call Yes, God, Yes uneventful or boring, but you’d be a fool to dismiss the mundanity of Alice’s struggle as anything else than true to life for millions of women. This is an important film, without a doubt.
Dyer turns in a fearless performance, not because the film is particularly sexually explicit – it isn’t- but because she truly opens Alice up for the viewers to engage with. She portrays guilt, confusion and a variety of other complex emotions without fuss and with admirable honesty. Her embarrassment is never played for laughs here but is always treated with respect and something to be valued and discovered. While Yes, God, Yes is certainly a comedy, it might shock you with its lack of laugh-out-loud jokes. Instead, it finds humour and warmth in the unlikeliest of places, such as a cute boy’s hairy arms as an instant, universally accepted sign of sexiness.
The most radical element of Maine’s feature debut is how it exposes our changed views on sexuality. Set in the early 2000s, teenage sexuality was feared and damned, especially female sexuality and female pleasure. Compare this to last year’s hit TV show Euphoria which showed high school kids engaging in much more than fumbling, awkward trysts in the darkness of their adolescence bedrooms. Yes, God, Yes reveals that most characters, whether they admit it or not, engage in sex, but it was something to hide, something to be ashamed of back then. Alice is pleasantly interested in her own pleasure; her discoveries aren’t brought upon by a crush or a more experienced boyfriend who demands sex, but her own need and want to feel good, by her own hand.
Maine’s direction is solid and she handles the tricky subject matter with grace. The visual aspect of the film is a little drab with muted, murky colours but that seems more like a creative choice to invoke the spirit of the noughties. Overall, Maine’s film is a triumph and something to cherish. Here’s to hoping Maine has inspired others to bring female sexuality on screen with humour and authenticity.
Dir: Karen Maine
Scr: Karen Maine
Cast: Natalia Dyer, Francesca Reale, Alisha Boe, Timothy Simons
Prd: Eleanor Columbus, Katie Cordeal, Colleen Hammond, Rodrigo Teixeira
DOP: Todd Antonio Somodevilla
Music: Ian Hultquist
Run time: 78 minutes
Yes, God, Yes is available digitally on August 17.